Change Management Toolbook

Change: are the train cars properly hitched? (or: can the boss change on his own?)

Corporate change is a complex adventure, one in which the human factor plays a major role… as always. But do collaborators receive all the attention they deserve, so that they might become the catalysts of this change?

Caught in the complexity of organisational and technological choices, in the development of processes with cohorts of consultants, pressured by impatient Top Management, shoved around by all the limitations placed on him, worried about time fleeing by, the manager struggles in the hurricane of change.

Things are moving ahead… or so he hopes. But are his teams progressing as he thinks they are? Are the train cars of change properly hitched to the engine? Not always…

We intervene in a number of companies undergoing significant changes, when they take stock during seminars or conventions. We talk with collaborators throughout the entity involved to assess their levels of adherence to the desired changes and their involvement in the process. Often, the feedback from teams through our “Change Audit” surprises the change leader. He becomes aware of the gap between his teams’ actual involvement in the change and his perception of their participation. His dream is brutally subjected to a reality check.

How does a change leader become the victim of such “blindness?” We’ve found a number of reasons.

First case: the “organisation-focused” change leader.

This manager gets completely caught up in complex organisation diagrams – clutters of circles and rectangles – which he juggles in search of the best combination.

In a worldwide group, the CIO drove the entire informatics functions. Can you imagine the complexity? He would spend hours describing the various past, present and future diagrams, from the most basic hardware layers to the most specialised applications, including those related to project ownership, project management, project management support… with great relish. When, after our interviews, we showed him the reality of his team, he refused to believe us. “It’s impossible that they should think that, that they should say that, that they should still be at that level… it’s as if everything I’ve done with them over two years had been totally pointless!”

It took him several long minutes of struggle to admit that these interviews we had conducted – with our usual objectivity and loyalty – were a faithful reflection of a simple reality: he – the self-proclaimed change leader – was not being followed! It was time for him to go back to the basics.

We finally managed to bring the Manager back to earth.

He came to understand that, borne by his enthusiasm, perhaps even by his passion, he had confused his wishes for facts. He had forgotten the inertia of human beings in the face of change, the “viscosity of human dough” when a large team must be given a new shape. a new dynamics.

He had charged, sabre drawn, secure in the belief that his explanations – necessarily brilliant but nevertheless complicated – had been sufficient, supported as they were by his incantations, to muster his managers against difficulties, to convert them into the power belting of the change he, as its motor, was driving.

It meant lost time, cost overruns, distrust between people, a lot of lost energy – which then required even more energy to get back on the right track.

But a few incantations, a few explanations are rarely enough.

This disappointed manager’s collaborators had not followed him. They had allowed him to go off on his own, without really understanding him, without letting him know they weren’t following in his wake. And he, the change leader, had not looked back. He had failed to check – on a regular basis – whether the train cars of change were properly hitched to the engine. And the engine had forged ahead under full steam, all alone.

Thanks to this” Change Audit “, the Manager can “re-hitch the cars of change”: he can start off again with his collaborators from the point they had actually reached, not from where he thought they were, explain anew what they had not understood, listen to their difficulties, to re-define the objectives, structures and processes in a concerted and consensual fashion that would tips the odds in favour of the success of this complex transformation.

Second case: the “speeder” change leader.

(Rapidity is an essential quality for many leaders, but there can be no doubt one must know how to curb its excesses.)

On another occasion, our intervention concerned the head of a consulting firm driven by a powerful urge to conquer. The report of our “Change Audit” immediately triggered his fury, so great was the gap it revealed between the positions of his closest collaborators and his own dynamism. Here again, we had to call on all know-how to soothe his disappointment. We then had to make him aware of the need to temper his enthusiasm with caution. For the “strategist” to become the actual “leader” of his vast project and guide it to success, he had to “re-hitch the cars of change to their engine”.

Third case: the “autistic” change leader.

In the most delicate case we’ve had to deal with (out of a thousand “Change Audits”), Top Management was not being followed by a significant part of the company, because it had failed to create confidence in it. “The engine was racing along to a dead end.”

When you are faced with a strong dynamics, whether one that races ahead or one that drags along, you must ensure that the cars and the engine are always moving at the same speed. The best way to do that is to connect them solidly through real, effective and complete communication, from top to bottom and from bottom to top, involving all those concerned with the change.

But don’t worry: sometimes, the cars of Change are properly hitched. The “Change Audit” can also reassure, calming the legitimate concern of the leader on this journey towards the unknown. If Management has duly taken into consideration the human, psychological dimension (misunderstandings, apprehensions, rhythm…) throughout every step of the evolution – or revolution – that is underway, it can be pleasantly surprised. Change may generate enthusiasm in the teams. And this enthusiasm becomes an accelerator of Change.

But that’s another story…


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Building on the initial work by Holger Nauheimer, contributors from all over the world are now adding to the rich content that you can find here.

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